I will admit that I walked into "The FP" ready to love it.
After all, it's being released by Drafthouse Films, and I'm a big fan in principle. After all, this is a company that was formed by Tim League to release "Four Lions" when no one else in America had the balls. And having known Tim for the better part of fifteen years, I know that our taste doesn't always align, but that more often than not, we do enjoy the same sort of weird.
So I found myself depressed when, about a half-hour into "The FP," which Drafthouse Films is currently rolling out in limited release, with more theaters being added this weekend, I realized that not only did I not love it, but I was impatient for it to end. The film feels to me like a short film stretched way past the breaking point, which makes sense, because it started as a short film.
The joke is pretty simple. The film is a hyper-serious riff on hip-hop culture and battle films, whether you're talking about the "Step Up" films or "You Got Served" or, specifically, "8 Mile." Instead of rapping or dancing, though, the contest in question is a sort of souped-up Dance Dance Revolution, and in the protracted opening sequence, BTRO (Brandon Barrera) is killed during a heated head-to-head with L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy). This drives JTRO (Jason Trost), BTRO's brother, to abandon the 248 gang and retreat into his misery. L Dubba E takes over The FP, which is the shorthand name for Frazier Park, and eventually, JTRO has to return to the contest he abandoned for the good of everyone.
Brandon Trost is a cinematographer by trade, and the film certainly makes the most of its exceedingly low budget. It is handsomely produced and there is an undeniable energy to it, but the entire thing is so arch, so self-consciously phony, that I simply didn't invest in anything I was watching. And maybe it's just me, but the mock urban slang that every character uses doesn't strike me as especially funny. Just because you have an Asian dude calling a white dude a "nigga," it's not automatically hilarious, and that seems to be an assumption that the Trosts lean on heavily here. The entire thing sounds like the worst first draft gangsta dialogue Quentin Tarantino never wrote, and there's nothing sincere about a single moment of the thing.
It's also got this pervasively dirty quality to it that just plain put me off. Troma films are like that for me. I may appreciate the joke of a Troma film in theory, but in practice, they all strike me as gross and too willfully stupid for me to enjoy. I'm guessing this all started as a private joke between the brothers, and then little by little, they built this into a feature script that still feels like a prolonged private joke. As with "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," there comes a point where a film is trying so hard to be edgy and weird and dirty and crazy that it turns into a crashing bore, and "The FP" goes a long way for very little eventual payoff. You know from frame one what you'll see, and since the film plays utterly by the rules of the genre it's making fun of, there is no surprise or subversion to the execution.
In the end, it feels like they were determined from the start to make a cult film, and that seems backwards to me. Cult films happen. They are organic. Audiences decide what films become cult films, and when filmmakers strain to make that happen, more often than not what you're left with is something like "The FP," empty and hard to like.
You can see the film in select theaters now, with more this weekend, and you can also request a date in your own city through Tugg.com.